Jun. 2, 2021 | By Jeremy Waller, MBA (Marketing and Community Outreach Manager – Behavioral Health)
The US Senate designated June as “Great Outdoors Month” in 2019, and what better time to enjoy nature than now!
Most kids are off for summer vacation, we are coming out of a long pandemic where many of us remained indoors much of the time and the weather is optimal for sightseeing and traversing.
But there’s an even greater reason to go exploring. Did you know nature is some of the best medicine when it comes to clearing your mind and improving your health?
This month’s blog article is all about the importance of the great outdoors to mental well-being. We’ll look at man’s fascination with nature, the healing properties of the great outdoors and some of our staff’s favorite scenic gateways across Florida. Let’s jump in!
Fascinated by Nature
We’re no strangers to nature. In fact, we love the outdoors so much that we’ve written countless love letters about it. But don’t take my word for it…
William Wordsworth, as he strolled among the ruins of Tintern Abbey wrote, “Nature never did betray, the heart that loved her.”
Isak Dinesen brought vivid imagery and romance to her Kenyan coffee plantation and the land she called home in Out of Africa, stating, “You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”
Meanwhile, John Muir, founder of the National Park Service and Sierra Club, brought an eloquence and immediacy to his words about nature in his 12 books. He once stated, “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”
Yes, nature has captured the imagination of literary prodigies and poets for millennia. Yet just as they have written about nature’s ability to heal and transform us, so have they written of the health related problems inherent in urban centers.
Jack London, in his detailing of the crammed slums of London’s East End in The People of the Abyss wrote, “The human soul is a lonely thing, but it must be very lonely sometimes when there are three beds to a room.”
“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” -John Muir (1838-1914)
William Blake was prophetic about the encroaching industrial revolution in England in his poem And did those feet in ancient time where he emphasized the “dark Satanic Mills” springing up across the land.
Perhaps most famously Upton Sinclair brought people into the heat and sweat of the “Jungle” of America’s meat packing industry in unsanitary turn-of-the-century Chicago. So influential was The Jungle that it provided the spark necessary for the founding of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
As we have seen, our words and art reflect a deep admiration for the great outdoors that is tempered by an equally fervent awareness of the challenges of urbanization. Put simply, we need nature.
However, what does science say? What is it about nature that specifically heals us?
Nature’s Healing Power
I once wrote a lengthy term paper for an upper-level statistics course during my junior year as an undergraduate psychology student.
The subject? How environments influence the healing process. I drew upon a wellspring of information that has stuck with me ever since.
One famous study demonstrated how patients in a hospital recovered faster when they had window views of foliage instead of views of a brick wall.
I also learned how natures complex shapes help us clear our minds and relax. As it turns out, shapes in nature (branches, leaves, vines, etc.) are comprised of fractal patterns.
Fractals are infinitely complex forms that when viewed allow our minds to relax by forcing us to ease our attention and instead simply take in what they are showing us.
Natures complex shapes help us clear our minds and relax.
This is what makes us feel awe when gazing at a forest or plant for example. The complex forms of nature actually make us chill out.
Even better for us Floridians is the restorative power of water, particularly bodies of water like lakes and oceans. Those who live closer to bodies of water reap the benefits of recreation and stress reduction.
The body of research surrounding healing spaces and nature’s positive effects has only grown in recent years, developing into a “branch” of study called ecopsychology (pun intended!).
Ultimately, proximity is key. How close someone is to nature matters greatly in terms of how much they benefit.
Nevertheless, even if a park or lake is out of close reach, we encourage you to take the extra effort to seek out places to visit during Great Outdoors Month. Your body and mind will thank you for it!
As we close out this article, we’re going to share how you can do just that by looking at some favorite scenic locations across the state of Florida as recommended by IMPOWER’s staff!
IMPOWER’s Favorite Scenic Gateways
As suburban sprawl, urban megacities and technology encroach ever more onto the landscape of our lives, we owe it to ourselves to reap the restorative benefits on mind and body that only the great outdoors can afford.
Thankfully, Florida has no shortage of natural wonders to enjoy. Our state boasts more than 200 state parks covering nearly 1,300 square miles, not to mention 11 National Parks!
Below are some of IMPOWER’s favorite places to visit and unwind across the Sunshine State…
“Wekiwa Springs State Park is my favorite because it has the perfect combination of adventure, wildlife and relaxation. Whether you’re hiking one of the trails or canoeing down the Wekiwa River, there’s so much to do and see.” -Jasmine Flores, (Development Manager)
“My favorite park, and one that holds a special memory (where I was engaged!) would have to be the Ocala National Forest. There are excellent paths for hiking, multiple springs with my favorite one, Juniper Springs, to splash around and cool down in. And there are areas to canoe, kayak, and even boat depending on where you end up! It’s so vast with different terrains both on land and in the water, there is truly something for everyone.” -Kasie Wallace, MA, LMHC, (Lead Therapist, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Outpatient Services)
Florida has no shortage of natural wonders to enjoy. Our state boasts more than 200 state parks covering nearly 1,300 square miles, not to mention 11 National Parks!
“The Orlando Wetlands Park in Christmas is a hidden gem in the Central Florida area. The park is a man-made wetland created by the City of Orlando to treat reclaimed water. It is home to many different species of birds, plants, mammals, and so many alligators! All around you is beautiful Florida landscape and the amount of wildlife you see every visit is amazing.” -Katie Palmquist, LMHC, NCC, (Clinical Manager of Outpatient Services)
“I second the Orlando Wetlands Park. It’s a bird watcher’s and photographer’s paradise with more than 220 bird species. You can occasionally also spot a bobcat or other wildlife. It’s one of my favorite nearby places to recharge.” -Rebecca Farmerie, (Grants Manager)
“Treasure Island Beach, especially the Sunset Beach area, right across from ‘The Florida Shell Shop’ is my happy place; you get the white sandy beach and nature is always in constant movement. There’s every type of bird, fish, and even dolphins. My secret is not staying beach front like everyone does but staying water front looking at the intracoastal, that way you can have a balcony, patio, or sun room looking at boats, kayaks, paddle boards, birds, dolphins, and sometimes even manatees.” -Carolina A. Dent, M.Ed., LMHC, (Outpatient Therapist)
South and North Florida
“I have two! Bahia Honda State Park near Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys is spectacular; you get the best of both coastal worlds, the sandy Gulf side and the rocky Atlantic side all in one place. It’s a great place to snorkel. The other is Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola. Literally the most pristine and serene beaches I’ve ever seen. Some stretches are entirely deserted at times, it’s like you’re on another planet.” -Jeremy Waller, MBA, (Marketing and Outreach Manager – Behavioral Health)
This month’s blog article discussed the importance of the great outdoors to mental well-being.
We looked at man’s fascination with nature, the healing properties of the great outdoors and IMPOWER staff presented some of their favorite scenic getaways throughout Florida.
We hope it encouraged you to go out, breathe deep and get lost in the wonder of the great outdoors!
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